Fox // 1974 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 7th, 2009
The scariest comedy of all time!
"For what we are about to see next, we must quietly enter into the realm of genius."
It's been several decades since the notorious Dr. Victor Frankenstein caused all of that chaos. You know what I'm talking about. The dead coming back to life, bolts in the head, dead children, torches and pitchforks...all that business. The whole affair made Dr. Frankenstein pretty unpopular with the general public, tarnishing the family name. Frankenstein's grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (that's pronounced Fronk-en-steen), is now beginning to receive acclaim for his medical research. Frederick (Gene Wilder, Blazing Saddles) doesn't want to follow in the footsteps of his crazy grandfather, but it seems as if he is about to do exactly that. He travels to Transylvania, meets up with Igor (grandson of the original, and that's pronounced Eye-gore), and takes up residence in his grandfather's laboratory. While attempting to learn more about his family history, Frederick discovers just how close his grandfather was to perfecting the process of raising the dead. Suddenly, Frederick understands his destiny. He will finish what his grandfather started, and in doing so, create yet another terrifying monster (Peter Boyle, Everybody Loves Raymond).
When it comes to comedy, bigger is not always better. Massive special effects and lavish sets frequently tend to kill simple jokes. Look at Steven Spielberg's 1941, in which perfectly amusing gags were suffocated by the sheer size of the spectacle. It's surprisingly difficult to create a film that is both hilarious and awe-inspiring, but that's precisely what Mel Brooks accomplished when he made Young Frankenstein. The sets here are every bit as spectacular as those seen in the two original Frankenstein films directed by James Whale. A selection of well-chosen still frames from the film could easily convince someone that Young Frankenstein was nothing short of being the definitive adaptation of Mary Shelley's much-adapted story.
Remarkably, Brooks managed to create a perfect marriage between vintage visual splendor and his usual goofball humor. Young Frankenstein is widely regarded as one of Brooks' funniest film, and for good reason. There are dozens of laugh-out-loud scenes here, from the "roll in the hay" bit to the side-splitting scene with the old blind man (Gene Hackman, Crimson Tide) to the show-stopping dance number. Even so, the pacing of the humor here is a bit different than usual. Brooks sets aside his "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to comedy and offers laughs that are more carefully moderated. The jokes aren't fired off at rapid speed, but rather worked organically into Mary Shelley's source material. There are fewer gags here than in, say, History of the World, Part 1, but more of the jokes stick.
The story and screenplay were co-written by star Gene Wilder, whose unique style of humor was perfectly suited for this particular tale. Wilder's impeccable comic timing and suppressed eccentricity make Dr. Frederick Frankenstein a delightful character. When working with the right material, Wilder could reach levels of giddy comic perfection. His turn here is undoubtedly one of his finest performances. Even so, Young Frankenstein certainly isn't a one-man show. There are also delightful supporting turns from Cloris Leachman (Spanglish), Madeline Kahn (Blazing Saddles), Peter Boyle, Gene Hackman, Marty Feldman (Silent Movie), and Teri Garr (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Each actor is given ample opportunity to shine in the spotlight, and everyone manages to deliver some hearty laughs.
Even though Blu-ray has been the winner of the hi-def format war for a while now, we still don't have too many black-and-white films available on Blu-ray. I was really hoping for a knockout transfer here, and I must admit, my initial reaction was one of disappointment. There are flecks, specks, and scratches all over the place, along with quite a lot of grain. Even so, these flaws aren't quite as detrimental to this particular film as they might be for another film the same age. Considering the 1930s cinematic vibe here, the flaws seem almost appropriate in an atmospheric way. I'm not saying that I wouldn't prefer a crisp and clean image, but I'm okay with what we get. The aforementioned issues aside, the image is reasonably well balanced and effective. Additionally, the DNR level is pretty low. Don't expect too much from the DTS HD audio, which is just fine but hardly jaw-dropping. While all of the original elements are pretty well-distributed, you won't hear anything remarkable here. The 5.1 audio is nothing more than a modestly effective new mix. The original mono track is also included, as is an isolated score track spotlighting composer John Morris' fine work.
Fox has really stepped up to the plate in terms of supplements, delivering all of the supplements from the previous DVD release in addition to a collection of new extras. Let's start with the old stuff. Mel Brooks turns in an audio commentary. It's worth a listen, but Brooks has a tendency to lose track and ramble a bit from time to time. Interesting, if a bit disorganized. You might be better off checking out "Making Frankensense of Young Frankenstein" (42 minutes), a solid making-of documentary featuring interviews with the cast and crew. We also get some deleted scenes, a gag reel, brief archival interviews with Gene Wild, Cloris Leachman, and Marty Feldman, a production gallery, and some marketing materials. This would be pretty solid batch of stuff on it's own, but thankfully this disc has some exclusives to offer.
First up, you get an "Inside the Lab Bonusview Track," which offers some picture-in-picture featurettes as you watch the film. If your Blu-ray player isn't PiP-enabled, then you can watch all 11 featurettes by themselves (about 30 minutes combined) by clicking the "Inside the Lab" feature. "It's Alive: Creating a Monster Classic" (30 minutes) is yet another making-of documentary. It covers some similar material, but is still engaging stuff. "Transylvanian Lullaby" (11 minutes) is a cool look at composer John Morris' excellent score, and you get yet another 25 minutes of previously unreleased deleted scenes. The remainder of the features are a waste of time: a bland trivia track and a "Blucher Button" which makes a horse neighing sound when you press it. Even so, this is a very impressive supplemental package, making it much easier for this reviewer to recommend an upgrade.
There's not much to complain about when it comes to Young Frankenstein, but I do have one minor objection. Much as I love Mel Brooks, he does have a tendency to run a perfectly good joke into the ground. There are several gags presented here that are quite funny the first time, but they get a bit old after their fourteenth appearance. Isn't that right, Dr. Fronk-en-steen?
One of the great comedies of the 1970s gets a decent transfer and a very impressive batch of special features. You won't be too excited if A/V quality is the only thing you care about, but otherwise this disc is very much worth an upgrade.
Put your torches and pitchforks away. This one is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Trivia Track
* Blucher Button
* Deleted Scenes
* Isolated Score
* Photo Galleries